Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Brick Wall Blunder... Cognomen Erratum!

Cognomen Erratum - Understanding Records and Avoiding Mistakes

Photograph Sharn White ©Copyright 

Loosely speaking, my inexperienced Latin translates (I hope) as 'A mistake of name'.  It is not often that knocking down a stubborn genealogical brick wall results in anything other than elation. Depending on the age of the brick wall or the length of time it has been blocking the tantalizing path  to the next generation, elation can range from a broad smile to shrieks of merriment. But beware - there are pitfalls to premature excitement. It is wise not to jump to conclusions hastily and VERY important to understand the records that you find.

Photograph Sharn White ©Copyright

Whilst tracing my family tree, I have demolished quite a few brick walls. In the midst of the thrill of razing a previously steadfast brick barrier in Lincolnshire, England and whilst adding several generations of family to my tree, I  learned that no matter how many years experience one has researching family history, there is always something to learn. 

On my maternal side of the family tree I had traced my Morley family line back to  John Morley (1756-1824) and his wife Esther Hardy. Tracing Esther Hardy's ancestors presented no obstacle. I quickly found her father Richard Hardy, born on March 6, 1717 in Lincolnshire, England and her grandfather William Hardy, my 7th great grandfather, who was born in about 1680 also in Lincolnshire. It was while searching for the family of  Esther Hardy's mother Alice Collingwood that I came up against a solid genealogical Brick Wall blocking my path to the past.

Photograph Sharn White ©Copyright

Often, I find that it is advisable to leave a Brick Wall alone for a period of time, and when I return to my research, I hope that new records might have been released or that I might find a clue that I missed when searching previously. For my Collingwood ancestors, I had a marriage record for Alice Collingwood to Richard Hardy on March 6, 1743 in Long Bennington, Lincolnshire, located in the Lincolnshire, England Extracted Parish Records  on Ancestry.com as well as in the England Marriages 1538-1973 on the FamilySearch website.  A family member had confirmed this record as well, whilst in England. 

Late one night, I finally burst through my brick wall and found the birth of Alice Collingwood as well as her siblings born to parents Gulielmi and Maria Collingwood in Claxby (near Alford), Lincolnshire. The birth records for these children showed their names to be Alicia, Maria, Elizabetha and Lucia. It appeared that Alice Collingwood's real name was Alicia and that this was the reason for the trouble I had encountered when searching for her birth. Looking at the names of my ancestors, I felt a rush of elation as I suspected I may have found the origin of my olive skin which tans very easily.  In Summer when very brown I have been asked by many people if I have Italian ancestry. Seeing such names of my ancestors  as Alicia, Lucia and Gulielmi, excited me into believing that I had made an exciting discovery. Surely I had found Italian or Spanish or some other unanticipated and exotic ancestry?

Marriage record for Gulielmi Collingwood and Maria Richardson

I became even more animated as I read the names of children from two earlier marriages of Gulielmi Collingwood. By wife Isabella he had a son Johannes and by his first wife Anna, Gulielmi had two daughters named Maria and Sara. Collingwood was obviously not an Italian surname, however, I became convinced that somewhere in the ancestry of this family was an intriguing lineage.

When I found the marriage record for Gulielmi Collingwood and Maria, I was surprised to find that her surname was Richardson. Somewhere in their background though, I was convinced I would still discover the exotic ancestry that I was now expecting.

 After a long night of searching Lincolnshire records and quite energised by my find, I finally fell asleep amidst thoughts of possibly one of my most exciting family history finds.  In the middle of the night, awakened by a barking dog, however, a revelation struck me heavily, like a brick from my genealogical wall. Instantly and almost certainly, my optimism about my having glamorously unexpected ancestry evaporated, as it occurred to me that the records I had found could very well have been written in Latin. This would explain the English surnames of Collingwood and Richardson coupled with Italian sounding names such as Lucia and Gulielmi. 

A search first thing the next morning confirmed my devastating suspicion. The names Maria, Gulielmi/Gulielmus, Alicia, Lucia and Elizabetha were exact matches for the Latin equivalent of English names. Further research into English church practices, revealed that until 1733 most English Church baptism, marriage and burial records, including those of the Anglican Church, were written in Latin. 

In my excitement I had overlooked also, a marriage record for Alice Collingwood's parents in the Lincolnshire, England, Extracted Parish Records. This record corroborated my fading hopes of discovering romantic and foreign origins. The marriage record showed the couples' names to be William Collingwood and Mary Richardson. Their children were therefore named Alice, Mary, Lucy and Elizabeth. Definitely no Italian there!

Lincolnshire register of Marriages, 1538-1837.

So as it turns out my Collingwood family from Lincolnshire, England were English. There was not one exotic Italian or Spanish ancestor lurking in the Wolds of Lincolnshire. On the bright side I have added a 7 times great grandfather to my tree and learned something about English Church records. Of course, the puzzle of my olive skin still remains to be solved. Perhaps in my ancient Scottish ancestry there is a Roman somewhere. And I still haven't ruled out a Norman connection. I will keep searching.......


  1. Great post, and loved the graphics. That sleeping stuff can be dangerous to our theories, or it can be the solutions. Been there, done that, amazing what happens in the middle of the night, how we continue to look for solutions and answers! LOL

  2. I love your brick wall pictures! I haven't run into latin in my searches yet, or maybe I have and I just haven't realised it... Great post!

  3. Great post! I too have struck this confusing Latin spelling when looking for my long lost Royal family ;).

  4. Ooh don't tell me that Charlene.... Now I'll be off searching for Royalty!!

  5. Hi Sharn, there is hope that DNA might uncover and exotic ancestor a long way back. Fran